Editor’s Note: As a reminder, we like to keep our reviews of waterfalls short and sweet. We hope you didn’t come here looking for a huge dissertation on why we think one is better than the other or some scientific breakdown complete with water analysis. They are waterfalls. We have never found one we didn’t like. Our goal here is simply to provide you with some photos and to give you our uneducated and subjective thoughts in 5 categories – Ease of Hike, Distance of Hike, Crowds, Options for Exploring, and The View – so that you can make a decision about which of North Georgia’s amazing waterfalls you think might be the best hike for you. We hope these simple rankings and photos help you sort out that out. Enjoy.
Raven Cliff Falls. Probably one of the most popular of the North Georgia waterfalls. Part of the reason is that it’s so centrally located to Helen, Georgia. Helen serves as the jumping off point for all the Atlanta area weekend traffic and with Raven Cliff Falls being mere minutes away, it’s easy to see why this is one of the more popular waterfalls in Georgia.
From Helen, go North to 75A (the road that splits off to the left right past the tubing place inside the flea market). From there get on the Richard Russell Scenic Highway and go up a few miles. Pro tip: cell phone service drops out at the scenic overlook right past the entrance to Duke’s Creek. So get your Instagrams fired off there or if you decide to camp at Raven Cliffs (see below), that’s your best bet to get service without going all the way back into Helen.
The hike is 5 miles round trip and is definitely on the longer side of waterfall day hikes. The good news is that it’s an incredibly easy hike for all ages. The last 100 yards or so present a steeper climb that requires some patience. But the rest of the hike is on a well maintained trail and has slow and gradual elevation which means you’ll be lucky to break a sweat even in summer. So despite it being a long hike that will take you a couple of hours, the ease of the trail makes up for it.
The entire trail follows Dodd Creek, which flows out of Raven Cliff Falls. So even if you get tired on the hike or want to take a break, there are plenty of places to jump off and find some solitude on a rock in the middle of the creek. Since this is so centrally located to Helen, be prepared to experience some crowds. We’ve done this trail over a dozen times and have never been overwhelmed with people. However, you can expect to pass a few dozen people on the way there no matter which season you go.
Because the trail hugs Dodd Creek the whole way, there are plenty of spots to jump off at and do some side exploring. The steep embankment along the way make it difficult to go far, but there are lot of spots that offer privacy if you want to swim or bring a lunch with you.
Once you get to the actual waterfall, be prepared to be impressed as it is one of the tallest in Georgia that we’ve seen. Again, be prepared for a short, but somewhat strenuous push to the viewing area. But once you get there it’s well worth it. There is a less established, borderline vertical trail to the very top of the falls from which you can look down. But save your energy and breath and just enjoy the falls from the base.
If you like getting off trails and experiencing as much as you can, don’t be shy about jumping in the base of the falls or even trying to climb up to the first level. The water is almost waste deep and there has been a downed tree for the longest time that you can shimmy and climb on to get into the first pool.
If you’d rather stay nice and dry, there are plenty of photo opportunities at the base. And don’t feel bad about not climbing around in the falls as the water is freezing, even in the summer.
Here’s where we give you the one tip that we will probably regret later.
The Raven Cliffs trail area, single handedly, without a shadow of doubt, with 110% certainty, has the best camping spots in all of North Georgia. We know we’re going to regret this as we never have trouble finding camping spots here even during peak summer weekends. And if we roll up on our site and you’re already there, don’t be weirded out if we flash our Wander North Georgia badges and ask you to move on down the road.
We’ve camped here probably 100 times. And each time we fall in love with it more.
Most people just park in the lot, do the trail, then go back to their cabin or Atlanta. We’re not going to tell you the best spots but there are about 25+ total spots there so you should be able to find a spot pretty easily unless it’s a holiday weekend (get there early).
If you want to camp you have two options. Park in the lot and take the Raven Cliffs trail .25-.5 miles in and you’ll find a variety of spots as you get on the trail. But these places often lack a ton of privacy with everyone using the trail to the falls. And you have to pack and carry your stuff in with you. If you’re lazy like us or you like carrying coolers full of beer, your best bet is to follow the gravel trail (don’t go into the parking lot) and follow it back into the area. There are spots all off to the left of the gravel road the entire way (and a sneaky good path to the top of Duke’s Creek about half way back). After about a mile you’ll run into a small creek crossing. If you have a SUV or truck, feel free to blaze on through as there is a huge camping area that can support multiple tents directly past it on the left. But we’ve made it through in a small car before as well. Any of these spots are great (some better than others) and offer you almost complete privacy. The first spot (before the road takes a 90 degree hard right) even gives you access across the creek to the beginning of the Duke’s Creek Falls trail so you don’t even have to hop back on the Richard Russell Scenic Highway.
It’s not quite primitive camping as the trailhead parking lot has two restrooms (sometimes they are cleaner than others) and you’re only a 15 minute drive back into town to a place like Betty’s. But the ability to pull your car up, walk 15 feet, pay no daily or overnight fee and have a ton of fun is the best we’ve found in Georgia.
We have heard rumors of bears through this area and we absolutely had a mountain lion come through our campsite one night (long, but very true story) because we didn’t put up our ice chest so make sure you pack everything up and put it in your car and you will be more than good. But we have been camped here more than anywhere else and have never felt unsafe or scared.
All in all, the falls are great. It’s a bit long for us since we’re lazier than we used to be and a little more crowded than we like. But it’s the perfect trail if you’re looking for something easy, pretty, and scenic for the entire hike.
Just don’t be mad if we kick you out of our favorite camp spot.